Simon Vozick-Levinson
March 19, 2010 AT 04:31 PM EDT

“We are human beings,” Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew told the crowd at Stubb’s shortly after 1 A.M. last night, “and we’re still figuring our s— out.” It was an atypically humble sentiment coming from the headliner at a choice outdoor SXSW showcase like this. Then again, Drew isn’t your average swaggering rock frontman. The sprawling Toronto band’s first album together in five years (due May 4) is called Forgiveness Rock Record, after all, and seeking forgiveness, compassion, understanding from the world seemed one of the key themes in the new material they played at Stubb’s.

Yet aside from a few early moments of mic and monitor trouble, no apologies were needed last night. The seven main band members on stage — Drew plus Brendan Canning, Charles Spearin, Sam Goldberg, Justin Peroff, Lisa Lobsinger, and Andrew Whiteman, often assisted by a six-piece brass section — threw themselves into the music with abandon, building up crescendo after crashing crescendo of melody and noise. Epic grandeur is a quality that many of the artists at SXSW strive for; I haven’t seen anyone get there more convincingly than BSS did at Stubb’s. While they are indeed still working out how to perform some of their new tunes, they nailed quite a few, including show-opener “World Sick” (studio version below), the spacious, thudding “Sweetest Kill,” and several others whose titles I didn’t catch.

My favorite BSS recording is their gloriously messy self-titled 2005 project, so I was very pleased to hear them dig into that album’s “7/4 (Shoreline),” “Fire Eye’d Boy,” and an absolutely huge “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day).” Another welcome nod to the past came when Metric’s Emily Haines and James Shaw, old friends and sometime members of BSS, showed up for 2002’s beloved “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl.” Hugs all around. It’s always fun to see a band whose members (and former members) have such obvious affection for one another.

After closing the show with the self-titled’s “Major Label Debut” — hazy and dejected on record, upbeat and energetic here — Drew pleaded with the audience again. “Don’t forget us,” he asked. “We’re coming back. We’re putting the band back together.” It was just about 2 A.M. Forget forgetting them. I wished they’d come back right then and there and play for another hour.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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